NEW DELHI:On any normal day, one can find Ayonika Paul preoccupied with multiple thoughts. One can also find her chilling out with friends, watching her favourite ‘Avengers’ series, leading a normal life like any happy-go-lucky 23-year-old would. She breaks the notion of a typical shooter.
“I always have multiple things running in my mind. I love to hang out with friends,” she says with a smile. “I’m a big fan of the Avengers. My favourite character is the Hulk. I like the way he can transform from a normal guy to a super-being.”
Talk about work (shooting), and one will get to see her other side. With plenty of belief in her abilities, she is mighty serious about her craft. For the love of sport, she put aside every thought in the last few months to concentrate on it.
And on Friday, at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range, the Mumbai-born girl was rewarded for her hard work. After a shaky start, she showed plenty of will to claim silver in the women’s 10m air rifle and secured the 11th Rio quota. Iran’s Najmeh Khedmati kept her calm to edge Ayonika for gold. “Last year didn’t go as expected. I had trained for qualifiers, but I could not do well in the finals. No matter what, I just wanted to win gold. I wanted the quota,” she remarks.
The 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist has been under the close watch of former India rifle expert Suma Shirur for the last few years. Having a trusted companion by her side has paid dividends. “I really felt the need to have a personal coach. I wanted a person who would sit behind my back during the match. Since India is a large contingent, it is impossible for one coach to keep a close watch on each individual. I had trained with Suma and we share an equal wavelength,” Ayonika reveals.
Her wandering mind has gotten her sticks from the coach quite often. “Sometimes, she will shout at me during training.” But, that does not discourage her from asking questions and sharing a light moment. “We are good friends. I ask her all sorts of things; from personal to technical matters. We have all sorts of fun. But, when we are in the range, we are totally focussed.” It has been quite a challenge for Suma to show her the way. Ayonika’s nature to have many things at one instance can be distracting, but the coach has a way to deal with the same.
“It has been a tough journey. To try and put across your point is difficult. Convincing her why she needs to do certain things is not easy. I have to put out every detail. She is a tough nut to crack. But, I feel that’s her strength; that stubbornness gives her the edge,” Suma remarks.
But, she is glad her ward has risen to the occasion. “I had full faith. We trained with this day in mind. We had put in many hours of training.”
Training can get hectic sometimes, especially with Olympics on the horizon, but Ayonika, an M Tech student, has switched between training and studies without any issues. “You got 24 hours in a day. I’m not shooting all day long. I study for two hours. I have to improve on my start and also work on finishing well,” Ayonika signs off.
Close Miss for Pooja
Ayonika’s statemate Pooja Ghatkar won bronze and just missed out on Rio. With just one quota on offer, Pooja was in her elements and was leading until the end but a miscued 18th shot ended her hopes. Meanwhile, Omkar Singh settled for fourth spot in the men’s 50m pistol event.
Chain Singh: 50m rifle 3 position event.
Prakash Nanjappa: 50m pistol event.
Apurvi Chandela: 10m Air Rifle event.
Jitu Rai: 50m Free Pistol event.
Gagan Narang: 50m Rifle Prone event.
Gurpreet Singh: 25m Air rifle event.
Abhinav Bindra: 10m Air rifle event.
Mairaj Ahmed Khan: Skeet shooting
Ayonika Paul: Women’s 10m air rifle.
Kynan Chenai: Trap shooting.
Heena Sidhu: Women’s 10m air pistol